Classic Beauty: Greer Garson

It is a great pity that most memories of flame-haired beauty Greer Garson are going to be in black-and-white, because she was extraordinary even by the standards of her time.

The best part about Garson is that initially, she never had any intentions of becoming a movie actress. She graduated from university with a degree in French and 18th-century literature and worked in an ad agency in her native London. Then she got into some stage acting, and when she was spotted at a performance by L.B. Mayer, he offered her an acting contract on the spot. Her effect was immediate: she got an Oscar nomination (the first of seven) for her very first movie role in Blossoms In The Dust, and won Best Actress for Mrs. Miniver  just a couple years later.

Most British actresses were portrayed in the contemporaneous stereotype of the calm, classy woman, but Greer Garson somehow managed to escape the typecasting occasionally, such as the dancer in Random Harvest (coincidentally, one of my all-time favorite romantic movies, by the way):

…and she was also capable of being not just beautiful, but sexy as well. Here she is in (yet another of my favorite movies) Mrs. Miniver, showing off her new hat to her husband, wearing a nightgown which… I don’t wanna talk about it:

Maybe it was an inadvertent act on the part of the movie’s director (I doubt it), but that scene is one of the most understated yet sexiest ever filmed — no nudity, no sexual banter, nothing but Greer Garson’s astonishing beauty. And in both the above movies (they came out in the same year, 1942) she was already thirty-eight years old, an advanced age by Hollywood standards.

Here are a few more examples of what I’m talking about:

If only they’d been taken in glorious Technicolor… but hey, I’ll take what I’ve been given.


  1. Always interesting to watch Mrs Miniver knowing that she was bonking the daylights out of her on-screen son, Richard Ney. Rumour has it they would retire to her caravan/trailer between set-ups and go at it like rabbits. They later married, though only for brief time. She was 12 years his senior.

  2. They were a different kind of people back then, MY kind of people.
    Didn’t Hedy Lamar invent the Norton Bomb Sight, or something like that?

    1. Hedy Lamar invented frequency agile communications, although unfortunately it could not go into production with WWII technology. Bombing from high altitudes was wildly inaccurate even with the Norton Bomb Sight, often literally missing by a mile, and the B-17’s were killing many random Germans but not so many Nazis or factory machines. They could guide the bombs into the target with a radio remote control, but the Germans or even the Japanese could easily jam the signal. So her idea was to keep changing the frequency in an unpredictable pattern.

      That eventually became a common method of getting all sorts of communications and other electronic signals through jamming or noise – some 30 years later, when you could use microcomputers to control the frequency hopping and keep the transmitter and receiver in sync. But at the time, the best thing she (and/or the engineer she hired) could come up with was a punched paper tape loop programmed with the frequencies. There had to be two tape loops, one at each end, and they had to advance to the next position at the same time. It’s one thing to make something like that work in the lab, and quite another when the transmitter is in a bomber being buffeted by AA shells and the receiver is in a falling bomb – and must be expendable and producible in quantities of 100,000’s.

      1. Lol “bombing from high altitudes was wildly inaccurate.” In The First And The Last, Adolf Galland describes a daylight 8th Air Force raid on a Messerschmitt plant. Receiving warning of the raid, the plant evacuated and the staff, including Galland, went to a hilltop a few kilometres away to watch the fun. If it had been a night raid by the RAF, they wouldn’t have been safe from stray bombs within a one hundred kilometre radius. Plenty and plenty of air reconnaissance photos show bomb bursts concentrated in an area of a square kilometre with only one or two strays. 8AAF worked in tight formations with all bombs controlled by a lead bomb aimer and when he pushed the tit, everyone dropped simultaneously. “Wildly inaccurate.” There are a couple of FB pages devoted to 8AAF. Go there and repeat your accusation and see how long you last. Those guys were so committed to accuracy that if the target was obscured by cloud, they would take their bombs all the way back home.

  3. “Lana Turner remembered that in the MGM wardrobe department, Garson’s fitting mannequin had the largest hips, ‘but she is a tall woman.'”

  4. Random Harvest is a criminally underrated film. Of course, Greer Garson starred in my favorite version of Pride and Prejudice.

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